February 16, 2010

USA: On Life and Love and Stuff

. PORTLAND, Maine / Time Goes By / The Elder Storytelling Place / February 16, 2010 On Life and Love and Stuff By Brenda Verbeck In 2004, my husband of almost 25 years died. He’d had lung cancer. The love between us was deep and strong. I felt like everything in me died with him. People tell me I did very well. I moved along in my life, went on trips, was blessed with friends who treated me as a person, not as the remnant of a couple, and so continued to include me in activities. And I have wonderful, caring children and stepchildren and siblings who called regularly; and my amazing then-93-year-old mother called me every evening during that first year. But the reality was that I was going through the motions. At the end of the day, I went home to the empty house and the empty heart. He wasn’t there. But then, just like they say, if you are not paying attention, the bluebird of happiness can land on your shoulder when you least expect it. At the end of 2006, I emailed a message to a friend thanking him for an emailing that he sent out regularly to a cast of hundreds containing among other things a column by the Boston Globe columnist Donald Murray. I said in my message that I wished I could tell Don Murray what his columns meant to me, particularly since my husband’s death. It was just wishful thinking. That afternoon I received an email from a stranger. He was a longtime friend and former neighbor of the friend to whom I’d sent that email – and a lifetime friend of Don Murray’s. They had served together as paratroopers in WWII. And, as it turned out, he was the source of that column I so enjoyed. He asked what I wanted to tell Don Murray and I responded. He said that he would send it along. THE BOSTON GLOBE: December 31, 2006: Columnist Donald Murray dies at 82 - Donald Murray wrote about the decline of his wife, Minnie Mae, who had Parkinson’s disease. Two days later I received another email from him with an attachment: Don Murray’s obituary notice. It was the beginning of a correspondence that increased in frequency as we began to share our individual life journeys. His wife too had died, a year before my husband, and he knew the pain and the loss. It was so easy for us to “talk”. We shared so many perspectives and enjoyed many of the same things. And so we “talked” via email until we had forged a friendship that was deep and caring. When we finally met for the first time it was like getting together with an old friend. Things moved rather quickly after that first meeting and this past September we celebrated our second wedding anniversary. That first year was filled with beginnings and endings during which I faced the thing I dreaded most: selling THE house and dismantling its contents. Yet, the thing I had dreaded most, and make no mistake, it was painful, became an affirmation of friendship, family and love. I still feel somewhat like a displaced person and occasionally mourn for those things that are no longer “my things” but on the other hand, I can visit them as I travel from Maine to California visiting the homes of various children and stepchildren. And I will always cherish the support of friends and family that stayed me on my course. I’d flown in from Florida to the mid-Hudson Valley to begin the dismantling process. It snowed that first night but a few longtime friends who had gathered at the house for what we knew would be our last potluck there helped me put together the cartons I would need and then left in a thickening snowstorm. One returned a day or so later to help me get the ball rolling and to my amazement I found myself laughing instead of crying as she and I filled carton after carton with memories. Another came later in the week to spend hours shredding documents while packing was going on all around her. Children and stepchildren and grandchildren came to sort, organize and pack, carefully indicating what was being sent or transported to whom. I’ve heard about families that crashed and burned during a like process. But all I heard was, “Well, I’d sort of like the (fill in the blank), but not if someone else really wants it.” I felt, and feel truly blessed. My expanded family now includes another stepson and daughter-in-law who are special, loving people, and a new extended family that has taken me in with love. Brenda with her husband, photographed September 2007. "We've not changed much," says Brenda So here’s to life – however it sorts out. You never know. [rc] © 2010 Ronni Bennett.